The wider creative industry in Malta grew exponentially over the past decades although the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic damaged the industry. Considered as a ‘future-proof’ industry that is not threatened by the inevitable rise of artificial intelligence, we have to date only witnessed the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential it offers.  

Our creative industry must become a major pillar of our national economy. Malta can position itself as a top global location for artists to relocate to, in the same way that we attract top industry leaders in the gaming and financial industries. This can be achieved through advantageous financial incentives, coupled with an appropriate legislative framework that proactively protects intellectual property rights, thus giving the industry the possibility to create in a protected and supported environment.

Today, despite the lip service, this government still considers creativity a side hustle and a fringe sector. This government still treats our artists as a ‘low business IQ’ burden to support. While we are led to believe that creatives in Malta enjoy the freedom to imagine, the freedom to create and the freedom to distribute their art and culture, the daily reality informs otherwise. Revelations that our political masters interfere in the field of culture and the creative arts continues to shock both our artists and their audiences.

What should be expert and sector specific government funding decisions taken at arm’s-length by so-called ‘independent’ bodies have, in many instances, become complex chess games to dish out favour to garner votes and political influence. If we desire to see timely, politically and socially engaged art, it is much better and so much healthier, both for the creative industry in Malta as well as for our democratic credentials, if politicians and their politically-appointed string pullers stay out of such funding decisions.

Let’s look at the film industry as an example. It is great to hear of foreign films being shot in Malta and employing local crew and talent throughout their production time after the cash rebates for these foreign film companies has been bumped up from 27 per cent to 40 per cent. Then, why does the Malta Film Commission only push certain film service companies forward to the detriment of others?

What are the film commission’s plans for the sound stages they are building, utilising taxpayers’ money? Will the sound stages be used to sustain government influence in a sector that supports the shooting of foreign films in Malta? How are we nurturing the local film industry created by local filmmakers and intended for international exploitation? Those involved in the industry need answers to these questions.

Why does the Malta Film Commission only push certain film service companies forward to the detriment of others?- Graham Bencini

Moving on, the performing arts scene and their audiences were among the first to be very badly hit by the measures taken to deal with the spread of the pandemic. It shall also be one of the last sectors to recover. During the past months, many performing artists such as singers, actors, dancers and musicians were constrained to abandon their careers in order to find alternative employment in other sectors to make ends meet. And, yet, no local dancers were chosen to support the live performance of our entry in the Eurovision Song Contest despite all the available local talent!

I dream of arriving at a stage where existing market realities provide a regular and appropriate income for all full-time creatives away from the need for government to fund or support their art. This can be done by incentivising the demand for art thereby enabling our local art market to flourish. We must nurture a proper collector base that remains rather nascent in many art sectors including photography, even though a number of tenacious private gallerists opened art spaces in Malta and Gozo, taking significant financial risks in the process.

New and cutting-edge galleries ignited Valletta’s burgeoning contemporary art scene before the onset of the pandemic while other gallerists chose to locate beyond the comfort of the central harbour areas. These locations provide a distinct alternative experience right in the heart of our traditional village core communities such as Mqabba and Mosta.

I believe a new government must provide a strong political commitment towards the creative industry. One that involves serious long-term planning and investment to achieve a dynamic ecosystem for artists and creatives to unleash their creative potential. A new government must establish the right legislative framework and provide a level playing field where funding decisions are concerned. Decisions that must be made at arms-length by truly independent and expert bodies.  

The involvement of organisations such as the Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association and the Malta Producers Association in these processes should be seriously considered. We must provide for greater public access to arts and culture starting from a young age. We must ensure that the creative sector bounces back to pre-2020 levels within the shortest time possible. We must invest in the creative industry by supporting it strategically with the right plans to create the conditions for organic creative growth rather than to use funding as a controlling tool to subsidise government’s whims of what the local creative sector should look like.

Valletta 18 proved to be a classic example of this approach. We should also embolden our local creative community to compete internationally. We must support the younger generation of artists that are currently breaking through by providing them with platforms to showcase their talents to local and international audiences.

In these scenarios, the new government that we elect should act as an enabler and not as a controller. The future lies with us. Let’s make creativity contagious. Your vote drives change.

Graham Bencini, PN candidate, 9th & 10th districts

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